Monday, July 16th, 2018

University officials propose tuition increase for fall 2017

Three different scenarios for the proposed tuition increase at USM.
Angelina Smith
Three different scenarios for the proposed tuition increase at USM.

Posted on December 03, 2016 in News
By USM Free Press

Johnna Ossie, News Editor

This May, the USM Board of Trustees is set to decide on a tuition increase that, if approved, could go into effect as soon as fall 2017. A committee composed of the chief financial officers from each University of Maine institution, along with several staff members and Chief Systems Financial Officer Ryan Lowe, have created the proposal that, if passed, would raise the USM tuition gradually over the next three years. The committee has also asked for an increase in state allocations to the university of 2 to 2.6 percent, according to Buster Neel, USM’s Interim Chief Business Officer. As of now, Gov. Paul LePage has made a pledge to include 4.65 million in a 2017 supplemental budget, which still needs to pass before the 128 Legislature.

The increase, according to members of the committee, comes as a result of several factors. USM has had in place a “tuition freeze,” in which the tuition rate has stayed the same for the past six years, allowing Maine to be one of few states in the country to reduce the real cost of their public universities’ tuitions in the past five years. It is this affordability that may have contributed to USM’s enrollment increase in fall of 2016, the first time fall enrollment has gone up in thirteen years. The tuition freeze, along with inflation, the rising cost of university maintenance, the rising cost of health care, as well as compensation for staff and faculty, has created a need for the tuition to increase.

The committee has proposed what they call a unified budget, which puts the institutions into three tiers, with each tier having the same tuition as other institutions in that tier. USM and the University of Maine Farmington (UMF) reside in the second tier. As of now, the cost per credit hour at USM is eight dollars less than that of UMF. The proposed plan would adjust USM’s tuition over the next three years to match UMF, with the full effect of the tuition raise finalized in the 20192020 school year.

In the first year, the cumulative total of 15 credit hours for in-state, undergraduate tuition would rise by 270 dollars, then by 540 dollars in the second year and, by the third year, up to 810 dollars.

Some student leaders are concerned by the committee’s proposal and are working to gain support against it. A petition with over 100 supporters was circulating through the student body this week. The petition reads: “The State of Maine’s funding for higher education has essentially been stagnant since the 2008 recession. This has resulted in a multi-million dollar deficit, which is why the Board of Trustees is proposing we raise tuition costs every year until 2022 by 2.6 percent (Maine’s Consumer Price Index). This solution is unjust and unethical as it offloads the cost of higher education on Maine’s working and middle-class families as opposed to sharing the burden. Higher education, especially public universities, should be accessible to all.”

“Low income students can’t afford for the tuition to go up,” said Student Body Vice-President Matthew Raymond. Raymond explained that he and Student Body President Humza Khan spoke with President Cummings and Ryan Lowe in a phone meeting last week about the proposed tuition increase, and that Raymond and Khan have decided to take a position that opposes the committee’s current proposal.

Raymond reports that the university has never recovered from the cuts made during the recession. He, Khan and the Student Government Association are taking a position against raising the tuition. Khan and Raymond have reached out to the Maine Legislature asking them to support more state appropriations for higher education and to oppose the proposed tuition increase.

Dan Demeritt, USM’s executive director of Public Affairs, said the committee wants to maintain affordability while also maintaining the fiscal stability of the institution.

“There was a time when tuition increased 300 percent over a 25 year period. Maine families can’t afford that kind of increase, there’s a strong commitment to keep public education affordable,” Demeritt said.

Neel reports that the proposal includes requesting more money from the state and will hopefully convince the state that higher education is important.

The concern of Raymond, Khan and many other USM students is whether the financial deficit of the university should be carried by the student body.

“The cost shouldn’t fall on students,” Raymond said. “Humza will be attending the faculty senate meeting asking them to join students in opposing the tuition increase.”

“Those of us that have devoted our lives to education, we would prefer that we just provide an education for everyone, but unfortunately that’s not a reality right now,” Neel commented.

He reported that the university puts a large amount of money into student scholarships. The amount of money for scholarships has been steadily rising over the last three years and is projected to continue to rise. In 2013, the total amount allotted for merit-based scholarships through the institution was 1.3 million dollars. In 2016, it was 6.8 million and is projected to be 13.5 million in 2019.

“The amount of state support percentage wise is going down, the cost is being borne more by the students,” Neel said. “Is that right or wrong? We would always prefer it not be that way, but that’s the reality right now.”

According to Neel, 35 to 40 percent of funding for higher education at USM comes from the state, while the rest comes from tuition and fees.

A concern of some members of the SGA is where the money will go once it’s collected by the university. “The majority of funding goes to UMO,” Raymond said. Fifty percent of UMaine funding goes to UMO, with twenty-five percent going to USM.

“Our primary focus is on students and student access,” Neel emphasized.

Students and faculty who wish to learn more about the proposed tuition increase and budget changes at USM can attend the Town Hall Forum on Dec. 6 from 9-11 a.m. in Wishcamper 133.

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